OxTango Music is releasing a newly-remastered 2-CD set of The Beatles recordings made at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany in December, 1962. The sound of what was originally low-fidelity recordings made while testing the PA system at the venue is improved to a point that I personally never thought possible. I spoke on the phone with Jonathan Meine of OxTango for about 20 minutes about the details of the project and the releases of the Star Club recordings in general over the years. I decided some background info may be helpful before hearing our talk but if you’re already familiar with the Hamburg recordings, feel free to skip this and scroll down the page to play our discussion right away.
Back to Hamburg
The recordings of The Beatles made at Hamburg Germany’s Star Club in December 1962 have a long and convoluted history. Having made four previous trips to Hamburg’s club circuit over the previous two years, The Beatles now had a recording contract with EMI, a top twenty hit single back in the U.K. called “Love Me Do,” and had even recorded a follow-up single that they were very excited about called “Please Please Me.” They had good reason to be excited because their producer George Martin had predicted it would top the charts. It was scheduled for release in only a couple of weeks so, needless to say, The Beatles were more focused on getting back to London and beginning a professional recording career than having to “mach shau” in German clubs. Nevertheless, the recordings made in Hamburg at this time are a highly significant piece of their history since this was the last time to catch the Beatles before they reached the status of national stars and the only account of any of their pre-fame stints from the Reeperbahn’s “red light” district.
The Star Club Tapes
It was over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays and there were a few other acts sharing the bill with The Beatles at the time, including Ted “Kingsize” Taylor & The Dominoes and Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers. Adrian Barber who was the guitarist for The Big Three, another act that played their on occasion, also worked as a sound man and stage manager for the Star Club. During the week, while doing some testing of the PA system at the club, he made a few recordings of performances totaling approximately 4 hours. The tapes mainly included The Beatles but also a few tracks by the other acts. The fidelity was not by any means even close to professional standards since it was set to record slow allowing less quality in exchange for more time. The fact that everything was recorded from a single mic suspended from the ceiling in front of the stage didn’t help matters either.
While this is the most widely accepted and believable course of events up to this point, some sources say that Ted Taylor actually asked Adrian Barber to make the tapes for him. Another account from liner notes actually credits Ted Taylor as the one who recorded the tape though this is not likely. In any event, the tapes wound up in the possession of Ted who claims that John Lennon said he could keep The Beatles performances as his own in exchange for a round of drinks.
Releases & Re-issues
Taylor unsuccessfully tried to sell the tapes to Beatles manager Brian Epstein after The Beatles had made it big and in the seventies he offered it to Apple Corps. After partnering with former Beatles manager Allan Williams, the tapes were offered to George Harrison and Ringo Starr individually. None of these deals were accepted. Eventually they were sold to Paul Murphy of Buk Records. He formed the label Lingasong and after doing a lot of work on the sound with filtering, making fake-stereo mixes and looping edits so that some of the incomplete recordings would appear more complete, he released the material on a double album in 1977 called Live! At The Star Club In Hamburg Germany 1962.
There have been numerous re-issues of the material over the years on labels such as K-Tel, Pickwick and a few bootlegs. Some of these include music from the other acts that is mistakenly credited to The Beatles. Because of a court ruling in 1998, the Star Club recordings have not resurfaced outside of the bootleg market since that time. In 2007, the underground organization Purple Chick gathered the Star Club material from the best sounding previous sources, removed the previous looping and added back in whatever they could acquire from the original source tape. They released the most complete account to date of the recordings on a 2-CDR set later that year.
The Ox Tango Remaster
Now enter OxTango Music as the next chapter in the story of the Star Club tapes. Their new 2-CD set of Star Club remasters has raised the bar on what was previously obtainable for these historic recordings. I spoke in detail with Jonathan Meine of OxTango, who explained to me that Purple Chick EQ-d primarily to reduce tape hiss, thereby sacrificing much of the high end detail. Jonathan’s work with the sound has brought back that detail while retaining the fullness of the band. Much of Jonathan’s work apparently was to undo the filtering and processing done on these recordings in previous releases which in his opinion did more harm than good. Jonathan goes on to explain that while you may hear a little more hiss in the OxTango versions, the gain in detail and openness will make for an overall improvement. Having listened myself, I am in agreement.
The OxTango set also includes for the first time ever, a complete version of “Red Hot.” This high-energy Billy Lee Riley cover sung with George Harrison and John Lennon swapping lead vocals was not included on the original Lingasong double album. A half-minute of it was heard although it was a pretty murky mix) on The Beatles’ Anthology documentary. A full minute of it was heard on the Purple Chick collection. Through an undisclosed source, OxTango has acquired access to a seemingly complete version of the song. My telephone conversation with Jonathan, revealing a lot of further details about this significantly upgraded release follows:
Jonathan Meine/OxTango - Happy Nat
Note: Hit pause/play button AFTER playing to avoid this replaying while trying to play the interview below.
Please note that while I see considerably improvement in clarity, openness and the overall sound of the OxTango remastered Star Club recordings (official or bootleg), I don’t rule out the possibility that the 23-second concluding segment of the track “Red Hot” (previously unavailable) was created by means of edit and does not necessarily capture the audio of the original performance.
Have a listen to the complete OxTango remastered version of “Where Have You Been All My Life” recorded at Hamburg Germany’s Star Club from a single mic hanging in front of the stage while the PA was being tested in December 1962. This is one of 34 tracks on the new 2-CD set.
Where Have You Been All My Life - The Beatles
Note: Hit pause/play button AFTER playing to avoid this replaying while trying to play the interview above.
For more information about OxTango’s Star Club Remasters, visit starclub-remaster.com/. From there you can also:
- Hear comparisons of Purple Chick versions vs. the Ox Tango remasters.
- Download samples of all 34 tracks in the set.
- Order your copy of the 2-CD set.